Sunday, October 19, 2014

NIGHT OF THE TYPICAL ZOMBIE: AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE By John Rose


#13: The Mad Doctor

Welcome, one and all, to the 2014 edition of The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween!  We took a year off, but as they say, we’re back from the grave and ready to party, and this year we’re kicking off the Ghost Wonderful Time Of The Year with a bit of total weirdness: the new comic series Afterlife With Archie.

Night Of The Living JugDead
While some may argue that the world really doesn’t need an Archie zombie comic, or that Archie Comics is jumping on an already enormously crowded bandwagon, there is no denying that ALWA is giving Archie Comics a much-needed zap of creative energy.  Archie has been a teenager for some 73 years now, and while Archie has played with horror before (such as the introduction of teen witch Sabrina Spellman, who serves as a catalyst for ALWA, and Filmation’s Saturday morning Archie spinoff Sabrina and The Groovie Goolies), ALWA is Archie’s first foray into full-blown horror.  Inspired by an alternate cover for the Life With Archie magazine edition by regular ALWA artist Francesco Francavilla, the series has gone on to serve as both a fascinating addition to the Archie Comics universe and a straightforward horror comic in the classic mold.

It begins
ALWA begins with the death of Jughead Jones’ beloved Hot Dog, run over by a car.  Jughead goes to Sabrina, begging her to use her powers to save Hot Dog, but Sabrina’s aunts tell him that it is already too late.  Determined to help her friend, Sabrina goes against her aunts’ wishes and uses the Necronomicon to bring back Hot Dog, who comes back from the grave… and comes back wrong.  Hot Dog’s reanimation sets in motion events which spell doom for the town of Riverdale and end with most of the main Archie characters trapped in the Lodge mansion, seeking escape from the zombies who have spread their contagion through Riverdale.

The Doom That Came To Riverdale
Not completely bloodless horror
While there will be some inevitable comparisons to Image Comics’ The Walking Dead (which can now be considered a modern classic and a template for zombie comics), ALWA does a good job of fitting well-known Archie characters into a zombie apocalypse setting.  Eschewing the usual hallmark Archie-cartoon style for a realistic style with a slight E.C. comics feel, ALWA presents a serious and straightforward version of the Archie universe, evoking as much horror as possible from its characters and situation.  At the same time, the series seems to have set its own limits on gore: there is blood and graphic content, but artist Francavilla and writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa seem to instinctively understand that what is not shown and evoked in the imagination can be just as horrific without completely going over the top.



Things to come
The first four issues have sold out, but ALWA’s initial five issues have been collected into a handsome paperback edition that collects issues 1-5, as well as a showcase of all alternate covers including the Life With Archie #23 cover that began the horror.  It can be found here. If you’re looking for some good horror comics, or want to get started, Archie has provided both a familiar group of characters and the beginning of an excellent horror saga.  Plus, ALWA has spawned a just-released sister series, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, also headed by Sacasa.  Though we in the Monster Shop are quite selective in our zombie viewing, we can say with certainty that ALWA is shaping up to be a fun ride.

Join us tomorrow for our next installment of The MonsterGrrls’ Thir13en For Halloween, and come see what’s on the slab…

Monday, November 26, 2012

THE NEXT BIG THING... By John Rose

The Mad Doctor
THINGS TO COME DEPT:  So I was asked to participate in an ongoing blog promo that is going around, called "The Next Big Thing."  Below is what's coming soon in the world of the MonsterGrrls.

What is your working title of your book?

The title is Season Of The Witch, and it is the third book in The MonsterGrrls series.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Season Of The Witch is the conclusion to the current story arc, which dictates the story of four teenage girls who are monsters and their induction into a human high school.

What genre does your book fall under?

Fantasy/horror/comedy/coming-of-age/sci-fi/romance/action/adventure/young-adult/adolescent.  Just say it's for people who like to read, and that would be pretty close.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

(This part's hard.)  What I keep seeing in my head is not live-action but animated, and not Pixar-type stuff either--traditional cel animation.  The voices I hear would be Grey Delisle as Frankie, Olivia D'Abo as Bethany, Sara Paxton as Punkin (doing a Southern accent that's one part Penelope Pitstop to three parts Elly May Clampett), Alison Scagliotti as Harriet, Eden Sher as Theo and Ariel Winter as Emily.  I have no idea who would play Stuart, but I have always wanted Bryan Cranston as Mr. Herschel.  Also, Mr. Lobo of Cinema Insomnia would be around somewhere, possibly doing some narration.

Also, I have to admit that I am not really interested in a MonsterGrrls movie, but since the holiday gets such short shrift by comparison I would really like to do The MonsterGrrls' Thanksgiving Special.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

As Khaine is released by unknown forces for one last shot at destroying Morlock Heights, Punkin takes matters into her own hands by creating a magic-driven laptop known as the SpellBook.  Highjinks ensue.  (No, it's not one sentence, but I couldn't help myself.)

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?


The book will be released by FrankenGeek Press, currently the finest and sole producer of MonsterGrrls books everywhere.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?


We're still working on it.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?


Well, we could compare it to Twilight since that's currently fashionable, but no one sparkles in my books or fights evil while appearing to be really bored with what they're doing.  Others have compared it favorably to Sweet Valley High, which I'm happy with even though there's no monsters in SVH.  Well, on second thought, there could be, as some of those people are a rather unnatural shade of blonde.

Sweet Valley High: Blonde, fresh-faced, and just that little bit frickin' creepy

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was inspired by a combination of the Universal Monsters, Saturday morning cartoons (particularly Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! and its numerous revisions such as Goober And The Ghost Chasers, Fangface, Drak Pack, and so on) and other things like John Hughes films and Buffy The Vampire Slayer.  The basic idea of MonsterGrrls is Groovie Goolies welded to The Breakfast Club.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The central themes of MonsterGrrls are not just about not fitting in and growing up, but also about friendship and how your friends that you can really count on become a part of your family.  Something we really want to get across to readers is that it is okay to be different--not good, not bad, but okay.  And we hope to continue these themes as the series goes on.

Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.

The last part of this is something I was not able to do properly, due to the fact that I could not find others who had not done this already.  So, with the blessing of the person who tagged me, I am directing you to five sites that you should view and enjoy.  (Click the links to view their respective websites.)

Ellie Dunn is a writer of fantasy whose books run the gamut from science fiction to fantasy to paranormal romance.  Among the titles she has published from her own No Boundaries Press are The Unicorn And The Serpent and Space Rebels, and she is due to come out soon with a collection of short stories entitled Flights Of Delusion.  Check out this talented author's work today.

Cinema Insomnia is now in its 10th year of hosting schlocky horror and sci-fi movies that are not bad, just misunderstood.  Enjoy the antics of the engaging and clever Mr. Lobo, see some of the worst yet wackiest movies ever created, and gather interesting CI merchandise from their shop.

RavensBlight is an odd little town that exists solely in the head of one Ray O'Bannon, artist, writer, poet, musician and general renaissance man of all things weird and creepy.  Download and create your own paper toys, read fascinating short tales of horror and spooky poems, and obtain whole albums of atmospherically macabre music all created by the man himself.

Freaky Monsters is the magazine solely dedicated to preserving the spirit and history of classic horror films, with beautiful photos and articles featuring the masters of horror.  Get back issues, subscriptions, books, CDs and more from the website of this beautifully written and family-friendly magazine.

Atomic Monsters is one of the best and funniest websites a monster lover could find.  Solely dedicated to reviews of Atomic Age rubber-suit B-movies, its hilarious tongue-in-cheek delivery makes it a personal favorite.  Highly recommended by the Monster Shop.

There you go.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

ONE DARK NIGHT ON MOCKINGBIRD LANE By John Rose

The Mad Doctor
So.  Friday night was the premiere of Mockingbird Lane, the $10-million-dollar Munsters reboot conceived by Bryan Fuller and directed by Bryan Singer.  Or rather, it was the premiere of ML's pilot.  As promised, we at the Monster Shop decided to remain neutral on this until we actually saw what the fuss was about.

The originals
The major reasons for the fuss, of course, was the pilot being a reboot of the much-loved and venerable 1964-66 sitcom The Munsters, which depicted the adventures of a family of monsters: Herman, a Frankenstein monster, his vampire wife Lily, his vampire father-in-law Count Sam "Grandpa" Dracula, his werewolf son Eddie, and their cousin Marilyn, the normal (or abnormal, depending on your point of view) member of the family.  Fuller, who is renowned for the brief but critically acclaimed TV shows Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me, drew fire from Munsters fans by promising an hour-long reimagining of the clan that he described as "True Blood meets Modern Family" and would also be more dramatic than comedic.  Despite all this, NBC, which for many years now has been trying to recreate the success of The Munsters, gave the green light to a pilot.  (It is still not clear exactly what NBC wants or expects from this, but Ye Writer surmises that it involves nothing short of resurrection of the original cast, most of whom are now dead.  I also believe that is pretty much the only thing that would please most Munsters fans.)

So two years and 10 million dollars later, Mockingbird Lane was completed and NBC was reportedly unhappy with the final product.  However, to save face, NBC agreed to premiere the pilot as a Halloween special leading into its fairy-tale horror/police procedural hit Grimm, which frankly was a decent fit for ML.

The new family on the block
Much of what we discussed in our first post on this experiment did come to pass.  Our story begins with a disastrous "baby bear attack" at a Scout troop campout, said Scout troop having one Eddie Munster (Mason Cook), a prepubescent werewolf, in its membership.  Responding to the signal of werewolf puberty, the Munsters quickly relocate themselves to Mockingbird Lane and send the "normal" cousin Marilyn (Charity Wakefield) to scoop up a great deal on the local "Hobo Murder House," which reportedly was the home of a serial killer who preyed on hobos.  Apart from the conflict of Eddie's sudden dislocation, the Frankensteinesque "made-Munster" Herman (Jerry O'Connell) has some problems of his own: his heart is breaking down because he loves too much, and he requires a new heart.  Since Herman is unable to tell his vampiric, shapeshifting wife Lily (Portia De Rossi) about what is happening to him, Grandpa "D" (Eddie Izzard, and yes, "D" is who you think it is), who is jubilant about Eddie's monster lineage asserting itself and looking forward to feeding from humans again, takes it upon himself to recruit a new heart from the local neighborhood's population--and finds a worthy successor in Eddie's widowed and unattached scoutmaster Steve (Cheyenne Jackson) whose heart skips a beat, just as Herman's does, when he sees Lily.  Of course, this means that Scoutmaster Steve has to die, and cue supernatural mayhem, Tortured Family moments a la Parenthood and discussions of morality, since neither Herman nor Lily can bring themselves to tell Eddie who the "baby bear" really is, and everyone (except Grandpa) has problems with just how they're going to get Herman's new heart.

So there's the backstory and the plot, and here's the skinny:  We at the Monster Shop are, unfortunately, still neutral on this show.  It was neither completely without redemption nor truly awful; in fact, it was much like New Coke.  It's not that it was terrible, just that it wasn't there.  And believe it or not, the major problem for Mockingbird Lane is the new Munsters themselves.

In the end, it's all about heart, which is part of the problem
As per the new Hollywood attitude toward monsters (all monsters must now look fairly realistic, normal and attractive, instead of like monsters), none of the Munsters look or act like the ones we're used to.  O'Connell's Herman is fairly nondescript despite the scars and convenient zipper in the chest (the better to operate the plot device), and even though there is a certain irony present in having Hollywood's most average-looking leading man play TV history's most abnormal-looking dad, O'Connell is unfortunately not Herman.  I am, however, pleased with the maturity that Herman shows in this pilot: there is none of the broad humor or man-child shtick that Fred Gwynne used to do, which sometimes made the show a bit hard to watch (for me, anyway).

The good and the bad get ugly
Cook's Eddie is remarkably stagnant for a child who is undergoing werewolf puberty; while he asks the right pointed questions, he comes across as the standard pre-adolescent suffering from the unhappiness of growing up.  De Rossi's Lily, while providing some nice eye candy and terrific vampire imagery (she arrives by reforming from a cloud of fog, then having her dress spun by spiders), does not really have much to do in the show, and neither does Wakefield's Marilyn, who comes across as creepier and more ghoulish than her Sixties counterpart.  The main thrust of the plot is the moral struggle between O'Connell's conflicted Herman and Izzard's blithely evil version of Grandpa, whose character suffers the worst in the pilot.  Gone is the crafty but kindly mad scientist/vampire who may or may not be Count Dracula; instead, Izzard is Count Dracula: ancient, demonic, devoid of morality and possessing much intellectual intelligence but no significant emotional growth.  And the sets and house, while magnificent, unfortunately bring to mind the Addams Family more than the Munsters, and often led me to think that Bryan Fuller was confused as to which show he was actually remaking.

Better Neighbors
So why are these new Munsters, who seem to be closer to actual monsters, the main problem?  Because Mockingbird Lane is not The Munsters, and unfortunately never will be.  The major mistake here is not really this show's central idea--monster family moves into normal human neighborhood, then begins to act like monsters--but its attachment to the Munsters legacy.  If this show had been given some other name besides Mockingbird Lane and the characters other names besides Herman and Lily and so forth, it could have become a nice horror-themed satire on not only Troubled Family shows like Parenthood but also the current crop of horror shows on TV today, which are in need of a good ribbing from time to time (the constant emotional turmoil of The Vampire Diaries and the relentless sturm und drang of American Horror Story immediately come to mind).  If one wants a show that is reminiscent of the early days of the Munsters, I would instead turn to ABC's The Neighbors, the current Wednesday night sitcom which depicts a New Jersey family who move to a gated community populated by a race of aliens stranded on Earth.  This show, a complete inversion of the aliens-among-us trope--humans, rather than aliens, must be the teachers, and the super-intelligent aliens unfortunately lack common sense--needs viewers, and I think it would serve well for people who expected more from Mockingbird Lane.  As for Mockingbird Lane itself, the show's central idea still has a chance to be accepted.  The solution is obvious: just quit trying to make lightning strike twice.

There you go.

For those who are interested, The Neighbors appears Wednesday nights on ABC at 8:30 (7:30 central).  Check your local listings for time.  More information can be found here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

MONSTER SHOP BULLETIN: MUNSTERS REBOOT PILOT TO BE AIRED AS HALLOWEEN SPECIAL THIS FRIDAY, OCTOBER 27TH By John Rose

The Mad Doctor
In a previous post we mentioned that a dramatic-themed, darker reboot of The Munsters, titled Mockingbird Lane, was being developed at NBC, to be headed by Bryan Fuller of Pushing Daisies fame.  Now, 2 years and 10 million dollars of development later, NBC is reportedly unhappy with the final product, but is currently trying to save face by airing the now-finished Mockingbird Lane pilot as a Halloween special.

The new family on the blockCreepy, spooky, mysterious, kooky... and really dark

The cast of Mockingbird Lane features Jerry O'Connell as Herman, Portia de Rossi as Lily, Eddie Izzard as Grandpa, Mason Cook as Eddie and Charity Wakefield as Marilyn.  When a "baby bear attack" signals the onset of werewolf puberty for Eddie, the Munster family quickly relocates to the titular Mockingbird Lane, in a house deemed the "Hobo Murder House" by the locals, due to the fact that a serial killer who once murdered hobos on a regular basis lived there.  We could go on about what else is to happen, but here's NBC's official description for the show:

Buying a house these days is a nightmare, so Herman and Lily are shocked that no one scooped up the rambling Victorian mansion at 1313 Mockingbird Lane that was the site of a series of grisly hobo murders. Settling into their new place, they’re quickly onto the mission at hand: to gently ease Eddie into the reality of his werewolf adolescence. But it’s not always so easy to accept that your child is a little “different” from the rest of the kids. Meanwhile, Herman, who works as a funeral director, is suffering from a heart condition. Since he’s made up mostly of spare parts, he knew his makeshift heart would eventually give out. No worries though, because Grandpa, who is pretty good at procuring body parts, is on the case. All Herman cares about is finding a new heart with the same capacity to love Lily as much as he has for so many decades.

As can be seen, Fuller definitely had his own plans to remake the goofy monster clan into something more serious-minded and scarier than the usual round of monster puns.  Though one review of the pilot is already unimpressed with ML, we at the Monster Shop have chosen to remain neutral on this pilot until we have actually seen the final product (at which time we will provide a full review), but to our eyes, the visuals (check out our link below to see NBC's official preview) seem more drawn from the Addamses than the Munsters.  Stay tuned, same bat time, same bat channel...

Mockingbird Lane is due to air this Friday, October 27th, at 8 PM (7 PM Central). Check your local listings for time.  More information can be found here.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

TALES FROM THE MONSTER SHOP: FREAKY MONSTERS MAGAZINE'S RAY FERRY AND CONNIE BEAN By The MonsterGrrls

The Grrls
Hello, everybody!  This is Frankie Franken and the MonsterGrrls reporting for Tales From The Monster Shop, and today we have something really cool--an interview with Ray Ferry and Connie Bean, the people behind the fabulous fright-mag Freaky Monsters Magazine!

Back in 1990, Ray Ferry was behind the rebirth of the much-loved Famous Monsters Of Filmland, but since then he's moved on to publish his own classic-horror magazine, Freaky Monsters, a tribute to the Golden Age of Hollywood Horror.  With fun-to-read articles and stunningly beautiful black-and white photographs of the old masters of horror, Freaky Monsters is shaping up to be a classic in its own right.  We all sat down to chat with Mr. Ferry and his lovely fiend Miss Connie Bean, who manages the ongoing workings of Freaky Monsters.

Frankie: Hello there, and thanks for letting us interview you!  Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves and your magazine?

The Master Of Freaky Castle
 Ray Ferry: Hi, MonsterGrrls!  Sorry it took so long to get this finished but you know, we are so busy here at the Freaky Castle all the time, it takes a while to get things together to do something fun like, an interview!

Freaky After Midnight: Their first issue
I'm the editor and publisher of Freaky Monsters Magazine, which I started in 2010 after having been the editor, publisher and trademark owner of Famous Monsters Of Filmland for 18 years, from 1990 when I revived the title until 2008 when circumstances beyond my control forced a change in title ownership.

The Beautiful Queen Of Fiends
Connie Bean:  I guess I am the Freaky Queen!  I am the general manager of Filmland Classics.  I was formerly in entertainment, real estate and marketing, but not all at the same time.  I came into this classic horror business about 11 years ago now when I first met Ray... wow, what a long time it seems!

Bethany Ruthven: Speaking as monsters ourselves, we find your magazine to be the best of its kind.  (Other Grrls nod in agreement)  But it must be said: there's a lot of information available on classic horror, both in print and on the Web.  What does Freaky Monsters hope to bring to the table?

Ray Ferry: I've been a fan of classic horror films since 1958.  My interests were spawned both from a fascination with film and the amazing clarity and depth of the publicity photographs that were released by the studios in the 1930s and '40s to promote the films.  My love and appreciation of that art still looms large and I edit Freaky Monsters to share those fangtastic images with our readers.  Certainly there is no shortage of "coverage" of the old films out there but often what I read from other sources is inaccurate and the images one sees in most magazines and especially on the internet are poor quality low resolution JPEGs that hardly do justice to the subject.  At the same time, I see a strange yet wondrous parallel universe in the classic films and they are a lot of fun.  Freaky Monsters is a world where its okay to be an outcast.  It's more than a magazine... it's a philosophy.  Many readers tell me they read and re-read each issue several times and never tire of it.  With each reading they discover something new. We welcome true-grue fans of all ages.  There's a seat at our table for everyone who appreciates the classics or wants to learn about them.

Connie Bean:  I think Freaky Monsters brings good factual information to the readers.  I help as much as I can with research.  If I can't verify it to be true, then we keep looking to find out what the truth is.  I love to search for new information and am pretty proud of the things we have been able to accomplish.  We bring the Fun back to Classic Horror, Sci-Fi and Fantasy!  That's what we are all about, FREAKY FUN!  We want our readers to show the magazines to their kids and grand kids and then watch the old films and TV shows with them.  We are all about family!  Ray and I both believe that what this world needs right now is a focus on the simpler times.  The times when families talked at the dinner table and focused on each other, not the Internet and their I phones!  We hope that Freaky Monsters opens a new world to some youngsters and takes their parents and grandparents back in time when they had no mortgage and no drama!

Bethany: So a more journalistic approach, backed up with true facts and the best photographs available.  Very commendable.  Full marks to you!

Punkin Nightshade:  Our Mad Doctor's always watchin a lot of horror pictures back at the Monster Shop, so I want to ask this next'un.  What's you folks' opinion of classic horror upside modern horror?  Do you think modern horror pictures is takin themselves too seriously?

Any resemblance to movie investors is just coincidence



Ray Ferry:  I don't know that they take themselves too seriously.  Rather, I think they are made for the express purpose of feeding their investors.  Let me explain:  In its heyday, cinema was an extension of the theater.  Films were the poor man's Broadway.  A single performance could be crafted and mass marketed to much greater profit than live performances.  The studios had to be creative to compete for the audiences' dollar and there was a built-in code that dictated how far the envelope could be pushed before a film was "unacceptable" as entertainment.  Certainly the studios that put out "horror" films were trying to "shock" their audience but with few exceptions the films are "boogeyman" stories... they are probably better described as "thrillers" or "chillers".  The movies they make today are little more than vehicles for merchandising.  If you take a close look at the film industry today you'll see that they don't make movies anymore.  They make thrill rides.  They get the audience in, take them on a wild ride, assault their senses, sell them some popcorn and soda and get them out in 2 hours so they can get the next herd in.  The films don't need to make a profit.  The real money is in the merchandising tie-ins and overseas run.   Because our society has shrugged off nearly every trace of moral consciousness and little is "taboo", today's "horror" films focus on depicting as much violence, gore and visual shock value as they can dream up.  The content is a reflection of our need for bigger and bigger "fixes" to get us to notice or react. 

Connie Bean:  I personally haven't found many of the modern films interesting or fun and really don't care to talk about them or study them.  They just aren't worth the effort to me.  They are too dramatic and edgy and I don't think they are good for our young people.  They also focus too much on the CGI effects they can get and not on the story lines and moral issues that the old films had.   I really just don't like them.  I want to be entertained, not feel trapped in my own skin!

Harriet Von Lupin:  So what's you guys' favorite horror film?

Beautiful monstress
Ray Ferry:  I have several but James Whale's Bride Of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man and Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein are my favorites in the horror genre. There's an atmos-fear in each of them that is evocative.

Connie Bean: I guess my favorite would be Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein.  I love the little bit of comedy thrown in with the horror.  I really don't get into the super-serious side of anything.

Frankie:  How did you two become fans of horror movies?  What's your earliest experiences with them?

Ray Ferry:  I started watching them on TV when the Shock package was first aired back in 1958.  I recall that a few years later Castle Films released a few titles in 50 foot 8mm home movie versions and I managed to get a copy of Bride Of Frankenstein.  I ran that film over and over again and studied the lighting, the staging, the makeup because I found it fascinating.  I learned at a very young age how to splice film because one evening I was watching BOF and I put the old Bell and Howell projector in "frame hold" mode then walked up to the screen to study a particular frame.  Imagine my shock when after about a minute the heat from the projector lamp burned up the film and I watched in horror as the frame bubbled, browned and burned up!  Later I was able to record part of the sound from a TV airing of BOF on my father's Wollansack reel-to-reel tape recorder and jury-rigged a belt system to synchronize the sound to the scenes that were in the Castle Film copy I had.  Unfortunately I wrecked both the projector and the recorder in the process.  There was a definite sense of wonder and appreciation of cinema in those days before the VCR and today's digital technology.   It may seem great to have favorite films at your fingertips but with that comes a loss of anticipation and uniqueness.  Too much of anything devalues its worth.

Whole lotta woman
Connie Bean:  I guess the first one I remember would have been when I was about 5 or so.  My parents wouldn't let me see horror films but I had an aunt and uncle that I used to spend the night with, often on the weekends, and we would stay up and watch movies.  I  remember watching Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and spending the next few hours looking out the window to make sure she wasn't coming down the street when I wasn't paying attention!  I loved that movie!  I was also afraid to go to the drive-in one night a few weeks later with my aunt and uncle because I was afraid that woman would come and grab the car!  Those were the days!

Harriet:  Wish we had a drive-in.  There's nothing like food out in the open air.  (slurps)

Frankie:  In your opinions, what can be done to make horror films better these days?

Ray Ferry:  Probably nothing.  The public has "progressed" to the point that's its highly unlikely a modern audience, especially kids, wouldn't be bored with a "horror" film of the old school.  The whole movie-going experience has changed.  The grandious movie palaces of old are gone, the "play bill" of an A film, a B film, a newsreel, cartoons and 2-reeler comedy that would fill an afternoon at the local "Bijou" have been replaced by sterile boxes in multiplexes where you sit through 15 or 20 minutes of commercials followed by a 2-hour feature and then get shuffled off to the food court or parking lot.  People today have the attention span of a fly.  There's just too much thrown at them.  That's why the films are such an assault on the senses.  They have to be.  Granted, there have been a few films that attempt to tell intelligent stories and emulate what cinema used to be but they are few and far between and usually not in the "horror" vein.  For all that technology has advanced, I'd prefer to see the classics restored, digitally clean up the soundtracks and re-release them as they were meant to be seen.

Connie Bean: Go back to basics and tell a story instead of worrying so much about the special effects.  It's just too much and it's gone too far.  Stop remaking the things that are classics because they are "classy"... yes, some of the old stuff is a little hokey, but better hokey than absurd and horrifying.  You don't need to "kill" the audience to make a point, just make the point without all the excess!  Horror doesn't have to be horrific.  We have enough horrific in our everyday lives and our children watch too much of that on the news, Internet and TV.  Let's get back to fun horror; that kind that scares you with what is not seen!

Bethany:  I'm more of a reader than a movie viewer, so I want to ask this: how do you feel about the Twilight series and other types of horror books written for young people?

Ray Ferry: I don't follow them so I can't comment.  But I feel a certain alarm that vampirism is often the focus of these series.  The need to associate one's self with cults that embrace death is disturbing especially since it's young people that are the main followers.  In the case of a story like the original Dracula, the vampire is a lost soul.  Its need to consume human blood is a curse, not a delicacy.  It is a foul thing that destroys life and is defiant of God.  But contemporary depictions have elevated it to "rock star" status as being powerful, invulnerable and indominable.  It is more a reflection of today's obsession with material wealth and power than good vs. evil.  The vampire has become the new "gangster."

"How To Join A Death Cult Without Really Trying"
Connie Bean: To be fair, I haven't read or seen them.  I don't have time to read much of anything but Freaky Monsters and the projects we work on.  I will occasionally take the time to read about them, and I am just not impressed enough to bother with it.  I just really stick with the classic horror.  I don't want to feel bludgeoned by a book, TV show or movie--I want to be scared but not mentally exhausted!

Bethany: Well, for my own part, I am a vampire, but I'm strictly on the bottle--AB-negative, for preference.  And I'm not a death cult member.  I was asked to be Blood Queen of the Vengeful Temple Of Magog once, but I refused on moral grounds.

Punkin: What you mean?

Bethany: I wasn't joining any cult that would have me as a member.
 
Frankie:  Freaky Monsters is (as of now) on its eleventh issue.  What are your plans for the future of Freaky Monsters?

For classic horror fans, a sanctuary
Ray Ferry:  We'll keep publishing it as long as our readers and fans want it.  For as much material as is available on the internet, I still have a lot of stills from classic films that are quite rare and that even some diehard fans probably haven't seen.  But even with the most popular photos, Freaky Monsters is aimed at casual fans and especially kids who are not familiar with the films.  My main focus is in producing the highest quality photo magazine on the market.  I'm often criticized by the horror "know-it-alls" for not filling the magazine with in-depth investigative articles but they don't get it -- I don't publish Freaky Monsters for them.  I publish it for the youngsters and the young at heart.  If someone wants to dig down into the muck and learn all the "secrets" about a particular actor or film, there are countless books out there to read.  We often hear from readers who write to say a photo or article they saw in Freaky Monsters made them go out and get a copy of the film to watch it.  You'd be amazed at how many fans haven't seen many popular old films.

Something for every fiend
But the biggest compliment I get is from older fans when they write to say "I pick up a copy of Freaky Monsters and lose myself in it.  For a few hours, I'm 10 years old again.  I'm back in a time when life was simple.  No mortgage, no job, no kids, no worries.  And for that, I thank you."  We also provide a bonding experience for parents and grandparents to share a spooky old movie with their kids and generally the kids, especially the really young ones, enjoy the magazine and the films as much as we did way back when.  Parents don't have to worry about leaving a copy of Freaky Monsters on the table because it's 100% kid-friendly.  Maybe I'm stuck in the old days but I think we provide a much-needed refuge from the high tech world.  Like all great art, if film isn't appreciated in its original form it will become lost.  Today we have the technology to sculpt a better and more accurate David, we could create an enhanced and spectacular digital projection on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel that would shame Michelangelo's time-worn effort. We could restock the Louvre with digitally magnificent remakes of every painting that hangs there.  But because we can, should we?

Films are no less an art form than painting or sculpture or literature or architecture yet they are constantly being remade.  Leave the classics alone.  Part of their charm is that they are a reflection of when they were made.  They reflect who we were, what we felt, what was important, how we laughed and they should be celebrated and studied in that vein as much as any other art form.  Unfortunately there is little profit for today's investors in re releasing or preserving classic films.  But, at least in the domain of classic monsters, they are safe from extinction and are celebrated for just what they are in the pages of Freaky Monsters.  As we say in Transylvania: "There's no ghoul like an old ghoul!"

Connie Bean:  We will keep going and going and going... I hear the drumming of that little Beaster Bunny now!  As long as someone has an interest in reading our magazines, we will keep publishing.  We love our Freaky Monsters! 

Ray Ferry & Connie Bean: Monster fans united

And that's our interview!  Freaky Monsters is available wherever fine classic horror mags are sold, or simply go to their website and buy direct!  (And tell 'em the MonsterGrrls sent you!)  We really appreciate their taking the time to talk to us, and if you're looking for a cool horror mag to read, pick up an issue of Freaky Monsters today!

We'll be back soon with more cool Tales From The Monster Shop!

Sincerely,
Francesca "Frankie" Franken,
Bethany Ruthven,
Petronella "Punkin" Nightshade
and Harriet Von Lupin,

The MONSTERGRRLS!!
 





Saturday, May 19, 2012

WRITERS ON THE STORM: MARTIN POWELL AND THE HALLOWEEN LEGION By Punkin Nightshade

Well, hey there!  This here is Petronella Nightshade, what am Punkin, and today I am doin another of them Writers On The Storm interviews.  Today I am speakin to a feller named Mr. Martin Powell, who has done wrote a book about somethin that I bet ain't nobody else ever thought of: Halloween superheroes.  I am sure excited about this, cause my feller Stuart is collectin all kinds of comic books and such, and all of them got superheroes in them, and I allowed one day as to how there ought to be some superheroes what was like Halloween folk and such, and I swan if it ain't here they come.  Mr. Powell's book is called The Halloween Legion, and he will soon be havin a comic book out what's got them in it, but this one here what's he made is all writin with some pictures.  So we got us one of this here book and done passed it around and it is a crackerjack, I am tellin you, so natural we all decided we had to talk to Mr. Powell.  So the rest of this here is me and Mr. Powell talkin. 


Welcome to the Monster Shop, sir! Can you tell us about yourself and what you do?

I make stuff up and write it down so, hopefully, folks will read it. All kinds of stuff. Prose, comics, children’s books, scientific and educational material, screenplays – I’ve pretty much had my hand in all of it for the past twenty-five years or so.


You done wrote a book called THE HALLOWEEN LEGION. What's this here about, and how'd you get started on it?

Well, The Halloween Legion are the World's Weirdest Heroes, a group of characters that I originally dreamed up way back in my high school days. One particularly mind-numbing afternoon in class, I started sketching these figures in my notebook: a Skeleton, Witch, Devil, Ghost, and a Black Cat, the iconic archetypes of Halloween. When I first drew them all together, as a group, I immediately began imagining a whole series of adventures for them. They’ve been lurking and evolving in my subconscious until recently, patiently waiting for their chance to be born. I’m actually very glad that I waited this long. I don’t think I would have been quite prepared for them before now. Autumn is my favorite time of year, and Halloween in particular, and I wanted to capture that feeling of magic and mystery, the sort of thrill you get as a kid when you first notice the orange, red, and yellow leaves following you down the street. It’s too brief a season, and I’ve always wanted it to go on forever. The Halloween Legion is my way of keeping the autumn season with me all year long.

And a right smart of a book it is, too!  But I heard you is into old pulp heroes and such. What's some of your favorite ones?

I became acquainted with the pulps when I was about twelve years old, as a friend introduced me to the Doc Savage paperback series. Next time I was at the store I bought one, read it, and was immediately addicted. I still am. I discovered Tarzan and the many other creations of Edgar Rice Burroughs around this same time and I haven’t been the same since. Starting in 2006, I’ve been fortunate enough to regularly write the original pulp hero The Spider, both in comics and prose, and I’m also currently composing Tarzan At The Earth's Core as a graphic novel, as well several other licensed Burroughs properties, which will be published by Sequential Pulp Comics, a new imprint of Dark Horse Comics. So, I’m definitely living the dream.


So you is up to a lot of didoes, I see, and it is always good to keep busy.  But what was it inspired you to start writin books?

It was a very deliberate decision. I've wanted to tell stories since I was a kid, and I started writing and drawing my own books when I was six years old. I've had other interesting jobs from time to time, from an educator in the paleontology gallery of a museum, to acting on stage and working as an extra in film, as an illustrator, and even a short stint as a stage magician. Writing fiction has always been the most driving creative force in my life, and I always kept coming back to it. I feel very lucky to be a professional writer.


Well, everyone should do what they is good at.  What is your future plans for the Halloween Legion? Are you doin some other writins of interest?

I have lots of plans. I’m currently producing a Halloween Legion comic book/graphic novel, illustrated by Thomas Boatwright as well as a brand new prose novel for Wildcat Books. I’d also love to do HL coloring books, animation, action figures, lunch boxes, t-shirts, Halloween masks, radio shows, newspaper comic strips, feature films, and even a gentler picture book version for younger kids, too. I’m aiming pretty high, I know, but our dreams should always be bigger than life. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Since you is obvious likin Halloween, what was your best Halloween ever?

Last Halloween was the best ever. But I know the next one will top it. And so on. We should always strive to make our best memories today.

Yessir!  I got one more question: What kind of advice would you give to someone else who was writin somethin?

The best advice I can give new writers is simply to write. Write as much and as often as you can. Try to write a short story per week, if possible. Don’t be so concerned about style or even quality at first. Just write in a way that feels natural to you. That’s the only way to hone your craft and develop your own unique voice. Then, at the end of the year, you will have written over fifty stories and at least a few of them will be pretty special. Also, turn off the TV and the computer games and read. Read a lot. Short stories, novels, comics, everything. And not just modern stuff. Read Poe, Shirley Jackson, O. Henry, H.G. Wells, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. These are master story-tellers, who practically invented the specific genres that have become so popular today. Modern writers would be nothing without these illustrious trailblazers, whether they admit it or not.

Now that there is right smart advice.  Mr. Powell's The Halloween Legion can be found out to that Amazon.com in both a book and a Kindle e-book, and I am here to say that you should get you a copy right quick, even though it ain't Halloween right now.  I hope you will visit Mr. Powell here on the Internet gadget and keep up with his doins, cause he is writin some good stuff what's fine for a summer read.  I shall be goin here now, but be sure to come on back because it is always one thing and then another here to the Monster Shop and it is anyone's guess whatever next.  Blessings be on you all!

Sincerely,
Petronella "Punkin" Nightshade

Monday, May 14, 2012

PEERING INTO DARK SHADOWS By John Rose

Mad Doctor
Mad Doctor's Note: Warning--many spoilers await.  You may want to read this after seeing the movie.  If you already have, read on.

So I'm reminded of the phrase, "It's only a movie."

We used to say that, once upon a time, when we were seated in the theatre watching a movie and they were about to do a reveal on the Big Scary Monster of the piece, or the hero was in dire straits, or something was coming up behind that particular scene's victim and was about to take them out.  In the Technological Age, we don't say that anymore because these days we're All Connected and such, and we blog about Things and read reviews and make decisions and generally Act Like Adults about things that used to thrill and terrify us.  But the Child Inside still remembers how we used to feel, sitting there in dark shadows watching flickering pictures on a screen, and the thrills we got and that wonderful feeling of being a part of something, of personal enjoyment, of being all connected.  The Technological Age, for all of its connectedness and innovations, has failed to properly capture this feeling for us, and because of this we demand much, much more accountability from our entertainment than we used to.

The poster
So with that, I recently went to see the new film Dark Shadows, starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Bella Heathcote and Eva Green, directed by Tim Burton.  And I liked it.  I didn't loooove it, I didn't think it was The Greatest Thing Ever, and I didn't think it was as good or better than the original.  I just liked it, and I'll get it when it comes out on DVD, because I liked it that much.  And here's why.

Barnabas The First (Jonathan Frid)
Dark Shadows is, of course, based on the 1966-71 soap opera which related the adventures of a remorseful vampire named Barnabas Collins and his human family, scions of the small Maine community of Collinwood.  Upon Barnabas's first appearance a year into DS's run, the show immediately garnered a huge fanbase that continues to this day, and fostered two feature films in 1970 and '71 and a short-lived TV revival during the '90's.  Dark Shadows is regarded as an ahead-of-its-time groundbreaker because of its supernatural storylines featuring vampires, werewolves, witches, ghosts, extradimensional creatures and time travel, and its influence upon many shows that came after it (including Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries) is still wide-reaching.

"Are they kidding?"
When word got out that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp (who are both DS fans of long-standing) had plans to do a big-budget feature film of Dark Shadows, the response was expectant and hopeful.  Upon release of the film trailer, many DS fans were immediately outraged over the rather jokey scenes, the 1970's period setting, and Depp's portrayal of Barnabas Collins (whose original portrayer, Jonathan Frid, died in April of this year).  Much of the genre film fan community had disparaging remarks about Burton's DS anyway, due to it seemingly being yet another in a long line of ham-fisted Hollywood remakes designed to drag in viewers and make huge amounts of money while trampling all over fond memories of a beloved fan experience.

For my part, while I love Dark Shadows and always have, I cannot call myself a fan in the same spirit that the film's decriers do.  Dark Shadows achieved legendary status for me due to my not having ever seen it in my youth, but constantly hearing about it from older family members who had seen some of the show's original run.  Ye Reviewer is currently enjoying the series through Netflix, and I can say without reservation that despite it falling victim to the usual disliked soap-opera conventions, it is every bit worth watching and deserving of its legendary status.

At this point, some people will be saying "yeah, well, when your favorite thing gets remade into a big crappy movie, you'll change your tune."  For me, that has already happened.  Saw Scooby-Doo; hated it, but the sequel got it right.  Saw Star Trek; didn't exactly dislike it, but the Star Trek Universe represented there seemed mighty homogenized compared to the original series, and the whole timeline-reboot sequence was obviously shoehorned in because the writers ran out of plot.  Still refuse, to this day, to watch Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho, and if I ever meet the guy I'm probably going to jail.  So I do understand your pain and what you are talking about.

"Okay, people, hear me out..."
But the thing is that Burton's version of Dark Shadows, while hardly perfect for either DS fans or fans of Tim Burton's earlier movies, is not that bad.  For starters, it is neither a remake or a retelling of the original story but more of a revision, and revisions work differently from remakes.  If you have never seen Dark Shadows, you might consider this a Second Draft of Dark Shadows; if you're a huge fan, you're going to dislike some or all of this film.  But it is neither a real remake (in the Hollywood sense) or completely awful, and like the original show, it tends to be its own thing.

Much of the original DS backstory is told in the first few minutes of the movie, which shows the Collins family arriving from England in 1760 and establishing themselves as founders and favorite sons of Collinsport, Maine.  The eldest son, Barnabas (Depp), completes the building of his family's palatial estate of Collinwood and becomes something of a playboy, getting caught in a love triangle between housemaid Angelique Bouchard (Green) and his true love, Josette DuPres (Heathcote).  Unfortunately, Angelique proves to be a witch, and Barnabas's refusal of her love dooms the Collins family and Josette.  Angelique casts a spell that kills Barnabas's parents, curses the Collins family and sends Josette over the cliffs at Widow's Hill, then curses Barnabas as a vampire.  She then turns the townsfolk of Collinsport against Barnabas, who bury him in a chained coffin in the woods.

Creepy, spooky, mysterious, dysfunctional: the Collins family
Two hundred years later, in 1972, both Collinwood and the Collins family, consisting of iron-handed matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Pfeiffer), ne'er-do-well brother Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller), rebellious daughter Carolyn Stoddard (Grace Chloe Moretz), Roger's troubled, ghost-obsessed son David (Gulliver McGrath), live-in psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Bonham-Carter), and drunken houseservant Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) are in disarray, while Angelique has survived through the centuries to become the town's favorite daughter and build a profitable canning business that has all but destroyed the Collins fortune.  Into this stew of dysfunction and secrets enter two visitors: lost soul Victoria Winters (Heathcote) who becomes a governess to David and is hiding some secrets of her own, and Barnabas Collins, whose reappearance is foretold in a ghostly visit by Josette to Winters.  When Barnabas's coffin is rediscovered and opened by luckless construction workers, he quickly treks to the ruined Collinwood, revealing his secret to Elizabeth and showing her the lost treasures of Collinwood.  Barnabas ingratiates himself into the family, helping to rebuild its fortune and fishing business, attempting to cure his vampirism with Dr. Hoffman, and kindling a relationship with Winters, who appears to be the reincarnation of Josette.  Angelique re-enters his new life as well, seducing Barnabas and demanding that he return her love.  Barnabas refuses, and the film soon escalates into a war for control of Collinsport as Barnabas fights to save his family from Angelique's curse.

"No Happy Meal toys, eh?  That's regrettable..."
So that's the plot, and here's the skinny:  By virtue of being a feature film, the story told here will be vastly different from the original show.  Soap operas, due to appearing daily, are episodic and told over quite long periods of time, while a feature film has two hours or less to set up, tell and resolve its story.  Also, Burton is a dedicated DS fan (as opposed to some other director who would have been merely attached to the movie), and his love for the series is evident and obvious throughout the film.  Johnny Depp's performance as Barnabas, while containing the now-standard Quirky Detachment that is expected from him, maintains the melodramatic sincerity and histrionic menace that were part of Frid's characterization while fully exploiting the fish-out-of-water status that a vampire from another era would have in 1972.  And the film does feature enough scariness to illustrate that demographics were part of the studio's targeting in creating the trailer.  While there are plenty of jokes and humor, those scenes from the trailer are not all you see, and the resurrection of Barnabas (which features the most backhanded product placement I've ever seen in a film) and his return to Collinwood is both funny and a little sad at the same time.

"I am Collins... hear me roar."
"Hey, can you blame me?  Vampires are cool."
The supporting cast, while of course subject to comparisons to the original characters, illustrate that they are as much lost souls as Barnabas in this film.  Michelle Pfeiffer's Elizabeth is dignified and strong-willed, just as Joan Bennett's performance was in the original.  Miller's Roger Collins fares badly, as the original Roger was a stuffed shirt who was nevertheless loyal to Elizabeth, but here Roger is a sleaze who selfishly chooses a life away from Collinwood over his family and son when Barnabas threatens to reveal his attempts to find the Collinwood treasures.  McGrath's David, while not as precocious as the original, is key to the survival of the family during Angelique's endgame.  Cast members who suffer the worst from comparisons to the originals are Bonham-Carter's Hoffman, Moretz's Carolyn and Haley's Willie Loomis.  Loomis and Hoffman were important supporting players in the original series, but here neither are given quite enough to do.  Loomis is relegated to loopy Renfield-esque slapstick as Barnabas's dogsbody, and the relationship dynamic between Barnabas and Hoffman (a key series element) is given short shrift in the film.  However, it does continue the theme of lost souls with Julia's treatment and subsequent betrayal (she gives Barnabas blood transfusions in an attempt to cure his vampirism, but steals his original blood to turn herself into a vampire and be eternally young).  Moretz's Carolyn appears to be the standard surly teenager, but toward the end we discover that the Collins curse has touched her as well: she is really a werewolf.  It would have been better if a few more clues to this had been provided through the film, rather than springing it at the end.  If Burton's Dark Shadows is really guilty of anything, it is that it tries to please original DS fans by doing too much in one film.

Queen Wasp: Angelique
Honey Bee: Victoria/Maggie/Josette (?)
Finally, we come to the two opposing corners of Barnabas's love triangle, Eva Green's Angelique and Bella Heathcote's Victoria Winters.  Green's performance detracts from the original to show the psychosis behind Angelique's lust for Barnabas, and while her endgame sequence has been compared (somewhat unjustly) to Death Becomes Her, she ends up being the perfect femme-fatale foil for Barnabas's wounded and struggling morality, especially in the seduction scene where she and Barnabas literally (and passionately) destroy her office.  Heathcote's Winters (who also serves as Josette DuPres) is serviceable, but yet another example of the film trying to do too much: her character cobbles together the roles of Victoria and Maggie Evans from the original, revealing that Winters' real name is Maggie Evans, who as a child was haunted by Josette's ghost and shipped by her parents to a mental asylum.  Escaping to Collinwood, Winters is caught up in the drama of the Collins family and the return of Barnabas, and becomes the eventual prize in the war for Collinsport.  Although her character is understated and perhaps even a bit underwritten for the soap-opera Grand Guignol Burton is attempting to recapture, she does well in her role and plays quietly against Barnabas in her scenes, reining in a bit of Depp's eccentricities.

The mood of the original is well-captured in staging and sets, demonstrating Burton's quirky-Goth sensibilities while not burying the source material beneath them.  Like the original, Dark Shadows the movie is its own world, and the settings of Collinsport and Collinwood, despite the 70's period pastiches, give every appearance of being well off the beaten path.  Longtime Burton collaborator Danny Elfman's score adds the usual deliciously dark flavor to the film, even using a bit of original DS score (sharp-eared fans will catch Robert Cobert's "The Secret Room" cue at the beginning and in other places through the film).

"Yes, I'm completely serious."
Now here are the really good things about this movie: First of all, if you are tired of ethereally pretty supernatural creatures a la Twilight, Vampire Diaries and True Blood, or humorless raging savages with Serious Motives a la the Underworld series, this is the movie for you, as it handles vampires, witches, ghosts and werewolves in a more classical-based yet subversive manner.  Second, it has attracted interest in the original series, and as all episodes of DS still exist it hopefully will help to keep the series in perpetuity via electronic media and so forth.  (Though no one was shouting for special edition DVD sets of McHale's Navy when its movie version came out, I feel that Dark Shadows will fare differently.)

And despite what anyone wants to say, it's hardly a parody of the original.  We have had vampires and other supernatural creatures in the pop-culture consciousness for at least a millennium now, and while Burton's Dark Shadows digs no new ground in the vampire legend (and neither did the original), this film does nothing to make fun of the show or its fanbase.  If it spoofs anything, it spoofs the deadly, unhealthy seriousness and quest for realism we have attached to supernatural and horrific entertainment by setting classical Gothic melodrama in the 1970's, a time when pop-culture completely lacked the ability to be serious about anything.  In this age when we are demanding more from our sources of entertainment than our presidential candidates, we could use a little of those high spirits today, and Burton's Dark Shadows may hold the key to that.  Go see it with an open mind, and then indulge heavily in the original.  You might find yourself joining Team Barnabas after all.  And besides, it's only a movie.

There you go.

"With animosity toward none."